MP SPEAKS IN DEBATE ABOUT MARRIAGE REGISTRATION CERTIFICATES

The below account is taken from the House of Commons Hansard for 8 December 2015:

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady, and to speak in this debate, which we are all grateful to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) for securing. I should probably declare an interest, given that two members of my staff intend to get married—not to each other—in the next year, so I was under a certain amount of pressure to attend this debate. We talk of nothing but wedding dresses in the office.

It is almost 19 years since I married my husband on a cold and frosty December day. Since then, the idea of marriage has evolved considerably, but it remains important to many of us. It is noticeable that the mothers in this debate—I hesitate to call it “the audience”—go particularly shiny-eyed when we talk about our daughters getting married. As the mother of a 14-year-old and a 12-year-old, I am already thinking of those happy days that I hope will happen one day—but not too soon.

We should recognise that families today look very different to how they looked even 20 years ago, when I thought about getting married, and extremely different to how they looked two centuries ago, so I will focus on how we adapt to that change.

Dr Huq: I did not declare my interest as a mother before; I do so now.

The hon. Lady makes an excellent point that the constitution of families has changed dramatically. Is she aware that, according to Gingerbread, there are now 2 million single parent households, which is 25% of all families with children, and 90% of those single parents are women. Given those figures, this erasing of women from history, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) has called it, seems even more anomalous.

Victoria Prentis: The hon. Lady makes a point that I will come on to shortly.

First, however, I will again quote the Prime Minister, from his speech to the Relationships Alliance summit, which I referred to earlier. He said:

“We all know that a strong family begins with a strong relationship between two loving people who make a deep and lasting commitment to each other…in Britain we recognise and value the commitment that people make to each other. And that’s just as vital whether the commitment is between a man and a woman, a man and a man or a woman and another woman.”

As we have heard from other Members this afternoon, it was in that same speech that the Prime Minister announced plans to address the “inequality in marriage”, to enable mothers’ names to be included on marriage certificates as well as fathers’ names.

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I have discussed this issue at length with one of my constituents, who has been in a relationship for a considerable time; in fact, we are all eagerly awaiting her engagement as well. She pointed out that she is estranged from her father, who subjected her and her siblings to sexual abuse over a number of years, and has not seen him since she was 10. As a result, she would not want his name to be included on her own marriage certificate.

I looked into this matter and I understand from guidance from the General Register Office and from my own diocese in Oxford that:

“If either party does not wish to put their father’s details in the Register or they do not know who their father is, you should not put ‘unknown’ or leave the column blank. You should put a horizontal line through both columns to show that no information was given.”

Although that would reflect in some ways my constituent’s wishes, it would also mean that there would be no mention of her mother, who understandably had to act as both mother and father to her during the very difficult circumstances of her upbringing. I feel strongly that a marriage certificate should recognise such a scenario.

Christina Rees: There is a rare exception by which a mother’s details can be included; it is if she has been authorised by a court as the sole adopter. Then a couple can make a special request to have her details put on the register and in the certificate. The other way that it can be done is via a loophole, whereby the mothers’ names can be included if the mothers are witnesses, but that is the only other way I can see round this problem.

Victoria Prentis: I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. Sadly, this matter involving my constituent never came before a court, so it is not possible to resolve it in that way. It is now important that we move forward to reflect the fact that families do not look how we once thought they always would.

Julian Knight: My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech and I was greatly interested in her significant point about survivors of abuse and their involvement in this situation. In that regard, is it not, frankly, just a bit of a farce that we have to look for loopholes in order to recognise women on a marriage certificate? Would she like to reflect on that?

Victoria Prentis: I could not agree more. Personally, however, I am not sure whether including the mother’s name on a certificate goes far enough. In the speech that I referred to earlier, the Prime Minister also set out his plans to make adoption by same-sex couples more straightforward. That is important because increasingly we are seeing same-sex couples with children who will eventually want to get married themselves. In such circumstances, they will not have a “father’s name” and a “mother’s name” to note on the certificate, but might have two fathers or two mothers.

I wonder whether this is the moment to go one step further and provide two fields on certificates for “Parent 1” and “Parent 2”, or whatever terminology we see fit to use, after consultation. It seems to me that that would cover most scenarios. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what consideration has been given to such a suggestion.

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Of course, any change is a step in the right direction. It must be possible, given that the mother’s name, surname and occupation are already included on a civil partnership schedule, to include those details in wedding certificates. I simply add that, given it has taken us this long to get this far, I hope that we will not have to wait a similar length of time before we recognise different forms of parental relationship.